Homer's Travels: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

From Turds To Goth Chicks ... Mental Wanderings

So, last night the Wife was looking at my Trona Pinnacles pictures and what was her first reaction??? "They look like turds!" I was laughing at this point so the rest is more a paraphrase than a quote: "It's like some giant alien came down and took a dump in the high desert." She then said that it gives a whole new meaning to Taking Care Of Business. She then proceeded to sing Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care Of Business" like some bad American Idol contestant.

Speaking of American Idol, if you are watching the show this year, you may have noticed that on Tuesday the auditions were in Omaha, NE. One of the idol wannabes was a goth female wrestler whose Nom-De-Guerre was Lady Morgue. Here is a link to her audition. The weird Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon moment is the fact that the Wife taught her when she was a freshman in Omaha.

I wonder how a nice catholic girl could grow up to be a goth wrestler chick with bad pipes. The Wife claims no credit for how she turned out. If I were her I wouldn't claim any credit either, Heh.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From Trona To Bakersfield

After I came back from Frazier park last Saturday I thought about going back when it was less crowded. Over the next day or two I thought about it and I couldn't justify a four hour drive to see snow that I'd already seen. I mentioned this to the Wife and she suggested Trona.

Now, I have some splaining to do. What , where, or who is Trona, you ask. For now, Trona is a town. A couple of years ago they were talking about sending my job to China Lake near Ridgecrest. The Wife and I looked at the possibilities including towns in the area that we could move to if it came to that. One nearby town was Trona, CA. Soon after when we vacationed near Death Valley we had a chance to drive through Trona. We both remember the town being a run down semi-ghost town decaying rapidly. We both laughed at how decrepit the town seemed. Fortunately for us, my job did not move, and it was a moot point since I was going to quit my job anyway.

Ever since we drove through and I have become interested in photography, I have wanted to go back to take some ghost town pictures. This was my chance. A chance for another meandering roadtrip. This may be turning into a habit.
I left early and drove out to the Mojave. I took an interesting route suggested by Google that took me along seldom used roads across the desolate desert. I took roads like Redrock Randsburg Road, Garlock Road, and Searles Station Road. On this last road I saw some train cars parked in front of a backdrop of snowy mountains. I got out to take pictures and realized that the desert is cold in the morning. It must have been in the 30s. It felt great! I really can't wait to move back to the chilly mid-west.

I stopped along the road to find a geocache, "
Poison Canyon", before I reached the turn off for the Trona Pinnacles. When I was planning this roadtrip I was a little worried about the road. Several places on the web suggested that the road to the pinnacles becomes impassable for all vehicles, including 4WD, after rain. Since we had just had over three inches of rain I figured I would get here and have to turn around. I used my stop at the geocache to checked out the ground. The soil there is very sandy and the top layer seemed to be dry but you could tell it was wet underneath. After walking around a bit I decided it wasn't too bad.

I reached the turnoff to Pinnacle Road and started offroading ... slowly. The road was packed pretty good and wasn't too muddy. Every now an then I had to swerve to avoid frozen mud puddles the size of my car but the road was very wide and it was easy to avoid most bad spots. After driving seven miles along the dirt, mud, and rock I arrived at the Pinnacles.

I drove around the loop road that took you around and through the towering stones. I got out and walked around and climbed up to the top of one particularly large formation. Several movies have been filmed here including Star Trek V (The worst of the Star Trek films in my opinion) and the new Planet Of the Apes. The place did have an otherworldly feel. The desolation was fascinating - yep, I find desolation to be fascinating, go figure.

I started back to the highway. The the day was getting warmer and some of the frozen water in the mud was thawing making the road feel a little squishy in spots. There was one place where I swerved to miss a puddle and I could feel the car struggle a little to get out of the mud. Except for that one spot I had no difficulty getting back to the road.

I turned north and drove up to Trona. It wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it. There were fewer boarded up housed then I remember. I stopped at the Trona rest area and found a second geocache, "
Welcome 2 Trona". I drove around and saw a couple museums. I stopped at one and learned about the history of Searles Valley. The other museum was a train museum and somehow I missed it on the way out of town. Not sure how that happened.

I thought about eating in Trona (There were at least two restaurants) but I didn't feel like a sit down meal and there were no fast food joints in Trona so I headed to Ridgecrest where I inhaled a Roast Beast Sandwich at Arby's (I was surprisingly hungry - I should have eaten at the sit down restaurant in Trona).

From Ridgecrest I headed west on CA-178 that follows the Kern River Valley. The road climbs up to 5,000 feet, where there was still snow on the ground, before dropping down into the valley. Very beautiful. Yucca, Pine, and Oak forests. Snow on the mountains. Ranches. Very cool.

CA-178 passes by Lake Isabella. The lake seemed a little low. After passing the lake the valley becomes a rather narrow canyon. I stopped to pick up one last geocache, "
China Garden", before I followed the Kern River to Bakersfield. The canyon stops abruptly and you come out onto rolling ranch and farm land.

At Bakersfield I caught CA-99 and headed south. I was surprised by a low flying crop duster that flew low over the freeway. Despite the fact that I was driving over 70 MPH I managed to get one good picture of him through my windshield without causing an accident.

On the way back I passed Frazier Park where I saw that a lot of the snow was already gone. That was OK since I saw a lot of cool stuff along the road - snow, trains, pinnacles, mountains, and crop dusters. It don't get any better than that. Well, it does get better but it was still pretty good.

There is one lesson that I learned on the roadtrip. Actually it's a lesson that I seem to learn and forget over and over again. When you see something interesting, stop and take a picture. I didn't do that on several occasions on this trip and I kind of regret it. I just zoom by and think to myself that I should go back and take a look and by the time I'm done with this mental debate I'm 20 miles down the road and it's too late to turn back. The first was a 12-14 foot tall pyramid made on angle iron. It was just a frame except for a flat triangular panel on one side with a huge eye painted on it. It was facing the sun. It was cool. It was weird. It was in the "yard" alongside two old beat up mobile homes out in the middle of nowhere. I think I was afraid of running into the person who would build a pyramid with an eye in the middle of the Mojave desert.

Another missed opportunity were some old building in the ghost town of Garlock that, once again, I passed by without stopping.

The last was failing to take a picture of the yucca plants surrounded by snow. It was kind of strange seeing desert plants surrounded by pristine white snow. I looked for a place to pull over but there really wasn't any place to do this safely. At least I tried to stop but I didn't get a picture either.
The pictures I did get are here.

P.S. Now you know the Where that is Trona. Now, the story of the Who. I mentioned that the Wife dreams that we will have three dogs. Well she had another dream. The name of the third dog has been revealed. Along with Homer and Astroburger (or possibly Astro-bugger) there is now an ugly dog named ... Trona-California. Go figure.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Snow, Bridges, Trains, and More

Yesterday the Wife looked out our bedroom window and remarked how beautiful the snow on the mountains was. The day was going to be clear and sunny so I decided to take a drive to see if I could get some pictures.

I decided to head up to Ojai where I knew of an overlook spot that should give me some good views. There were several people there when I arrived and the view was spectacular.

On the left of this panorama is Chief Peak where I hiked to last year. On the right, slightly shrouded in clouds, is Topa Topa which I hope to do later this year.

I decided that while I was on the road I might as well find some real snow so I drove to Frasier Park. On the way I enjoyed all the green that the rain brought with it. As I approached Frazier Park at the 4,000 ft level the freeway was lined in about a foot of snow. It felt like I was driving through Nebraska or Iowa except for the mountains. When I got there I realized that Saturday wasn't the best time to do this. Everyone had the same idea. As I pull off the freeway and headed into town traffic slowed to a crawl. Every available parking spot was full. People were playing in the snow, throwing snowballs, and making snowmen. I turned into old Frazier Park - I couldn't have gone straight anyway since chains were required beyond that point and the highway patrol was out enforcing the restrictions. I looked for parking in the old section but most of the parking lots had over a foot of snow and the ol' Honda would never make it. Any cleared lots were full. I looked for a restaurant to get some food and they were all packed. I took a few pictures outside the window of my car before heading back out. Not best plan I've ever had I guess.

On the way back I drove up to lake Piru since I'd never been there before. Nothing that interesting. I did get some cool bridge pictures in the town of Piru.

I left Piru and drove to Fillmore. Filmore's claim to fame is trains. The Fillmore & Western Railway Co. offer murder trains and holiday themed train rides. I've never gone as they are a little steep in the price area. I stopped at an ice cream place but they were out of Chocolate so I settled for a very good brownie instead. I walked around the train yard and bought a magnet before heading further down the road.

I stopped and took a picture of a little red school house. It was originally built in 1879 and is still an active school. It's the only active one room school house in Ventura County.

I took a short side trip to the trailhead that would take me up to Topa Topa. The road up to the parking area was all washed out. It looks like the road turns into a river when it rains. This could be an issue if I can't get to the trailhead. That would suck.

On the way home I noticed that you could see the islands despite the incoming rain. I stopped and snapped a few pictures.

So there you have it. My Saturday was a meandering drive with snow, bridges, trains, schoolhouses, and ocean. A very eclectic day indeed. Pictures that I took can be found here. I'm actually thinking about going back up to Frazier Park on Tuesday. It's supposed to be sunny and I would imagine it would be less crowded. Also, they are getting more snow tonight.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The *New* Music In My Head

Back in December I talked about buying some music with the gift card I got for Christmas. I'd looked at the Godson's list and some suggestions from Just A Girl. I looked at Amazon and listened to a bunch of music. I looked at other people's best of 2007 lists. Here is the list that I ended up buying. The list is in rough order of how much I like the music. I say rough order because there is some variation in the music I bought and how much I like it varies with what I'm doing while I listening to it. My taste in music changes as my mood changes.
  1. Juno Soundtrack : A really quirky collection of good, and sometimes strange, music.

  2. Dan Wilson - Free Life : I like the music though I'm not sure about the guy's singing voice. It seems a little too high but the music won me over quickly (Thanks to the Godson for the recommendation)

  3. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible : I wasn't sure about this one. The Wife didn't like it too much when she heard it. I have to say that it's growing on me to the point that I've put it at number three.

  4. Mark Knopfler - Kill To Get Crimson : I have always liked Mark Knopfler. I liked him in Dire Straits. I liked him in the Knotting Hillbillies. I liked him with Emmylou Harris. I like him solo.

  5. The National - Boxer : OK, it reminds me of Mark Knopfler a little. Not sure why but, since I like Mark Knopfler, I like The National.

  6. The Watson Twins - Southern Manners : I liked Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. Now I like The Watson Twins with Jenny Lewis. But I prefer more Jenny Lewis. Having said that, they're pretty good on their own.

  7. The Weepies - Say I Am You : One of Just A Girls suggestions. I like it. It fits right in with my other music tastes. A little mellow. Nice lyrics. Good stuff. (Thanks JaG!)

  8. Radiohead - In Rainbows : This was on a lot of peoples top ten lists last year. I consider it good but not great. Not sure what everyone is seeing, err ... hearing, here.

  9. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver : This one was on a lot of people's top ten and at first I thought I'd made a mistake. I've listened to it a few times now and I'm changing my mind. It's different from what I usually listen to. It's growing on me and, who knows, it may move up the list.

  10. Annie Lennox - Songs Of Mass Destruction : I really liked Lennox's Bare. This one, while good, doesn't grab me as much. I have a feeling if I listen to it a few more times it will get better (most music does that for me - doubtful at first but better with familiarity).

  11. Burial - Untrue : This one is a stretch for me. Again, on many top tens but it's genre is a little on the fringe of what I usually go for. I've listened to it a few times and it really isn't too bad. It never hurts to stretch your genre comfort zone every now and then. Who knows, you might find something you never expected.
I like everything I bought. This is not always the case but it helps that you can listen to samples before you buy. Things sure have changed in the last 20 years. No more buying a CD with only one good song.

This music purchase marks a milestone for me. Of the eleven albums, only three were actual compact disks. The other eight were downloads. I have bought MP3 downloads before but most of the time I have bought the CDs and ripped them. Now that Amazon is selling MP3s without
DRM this may be the method of choice for me from now on. One reason is the convenience (I listen to most music at the computer or on my MP3 player - No iPod for me yet, just an old Archos that feels like a brick.). Another is the cost. I averaged $9.23 per album - not too bad. I remember the days of $15 albums.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bon Voyage Matey!

Today the last connection with my old job was severed. I attended my going away party. The party had been delayed because of the holidays and work schedules, whatever those are :-). Unfortunately I forgot my camera - what was I thinking?!?

It was nice seeing all these people again. The strange thing is it felt like I hadn't seen any of these people for years despite it only being 20 days since I left. It actually had been a few years for some. I guess I have really blocked the old job out of my mind.

The party was held at Pirates Grub N Grog for me and two other guys who retired at the same time. We all received letters of appreciation from the Captain (A good friend of the family). The letter was long and discussed my 20 year career. I recognized that I had written most of the letter for my boss before I left.

After the letter I received a really nice plaque recognizing my contributions. It will find a nice wall to hang on in our new den in Omaha. I gave a little speech thanking everyone and letting everyone know what our plans for the future are. A few of the people got up and talked about the three of us. It was nice. My replacement is stressed out but handling my job nicely.

We ate some good grub including some delicious cake. I even mingled and talked to everyone. It was kind of fun. When they asked how I was doing I would just point at the "Life is good®" logo on my shirt and smile. A few commented on how happy I looked.

It was a good going away. I left with a cool plaque, a letter, a signed card, a signed picture of a NATO Seasparrow missile launching, a doggy bag full of chocolate and white cake, some gift cards, and a bunch of balloons (BALLOONS!!). My boss gave me the best gift of all - he called in sick and didn't show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #42: Zuma and Trancas Canyon

Last Thursday I hiked Zuma Canyon down in Malibu. I Arrived just around sunrise and caught some amazing shots of the sun. Besides this the hike was pretty vanilla - interesting but nothing special. The hike begins at the end of Busch road. The path is an Up-Down-Up-Down-Up loop.
I started up the Zuma Ridge trail which is a dirt road that winds up the ridge. On Thursday the Santa Anna Winds were blowing something fierce. Normally the Santa Annas are warm, dry desert winds but in the wee hours of the morning they are bracing, dry desert winds that chill you to the bone. The wind was probably in the 20 to 30 mph range with gusts in the 45 to 55 mph range. As the trail wove its way up the ridge I walked in and out of the wind. There were parts where the wind made me stagger a bit. When I entered the wind it would try to steal my hat but the dork strap worked pretty good. Only once did the hat actually fly off my head before the strap stopped it. When the wind couldn't steal my hat it decided to become bothersome by alternately flipping the brim up making me look like Gomer Pyle and down blindfolding me.

This portion of the trail went relentlessly up. From the road I could see sweeping ocean vistas. The wind kept the skies clear and you could easily see Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, and San Nicholas Islands.

Near the top I passed the Trancas-Edison road on the left. A little ways further, 2.7 miles from the trailhead, I reached the gated Zuma-Edison road on the right. This is the high point of the first ascent having climbed 1,455 feet from the trail head.

I turned right and walked down the Zuma-Edison road. The road switchbacks down the canyon wall. Here the road is lined with small trees and tall brush. The wind was less fierce in the canyon but you could hear that it was still there from the moaning, creaking, and scratching noises the trees made.

At the 4.43 mile point I reached Zuma Canyon creek. This was the bottom of the first decent - 1,078 feet from the peak. I sat on a rock and took in the sounds of the running water. I looked at my watch and it wasn't even 9:00 am yet. Since this was near the half way point, I pulled out my sandwich and ate a very early - 2 hours early - lunch and rested.

I crossed the creek and started up the second ascent. There were rocks on the road that reminded me of the Romero Canyon Road I was on
the week before. The road climbs up to the top of a ridge and gives you some more views of the ocean before turning inward. The ascent ends after climbing 989 feet.

At the 6.31 mile point you reach the intersection of the Zuma-Edison road and the Zuma Canyon Connector trail. This trail is a 1.3 mile single trail that connects the Zuma-Edison Road with the Kanan-Edison Road. I liked the fact that I was off the road and on a 'real' trail.

After you turn right onto the Kanan-Edison road it passes a junction with the Canyon View Trail on the right and another junction further on with the Ocean View Trail. I took a right and followed the Ocean View Trail.
This trail offers more ocean views (duh!) before it switchbacks down into Zuma Canyon. The trail is washed out in areas and you can tell the trail becomes a river when it rains. This made it a little tough on the ankles and knees and was difficult to navigate.

The trail bottoms out at the creek bed, a 1,600 feet decent. I was surprised to find no water since there was water upstream.

I crossed the creek at about the 9.21 mile point. The trail hits another trail where you turn left and then make a quick right to get on the Ridge-Canyon access trail that switchbacks up the side of the canyon about 300 feet taking you back to the trailhead.

The total distance of this hike was 9.72 miles. I did this hike in a record (for me) of 4.5 hours. Normally this length of a hike takes me over six hours. I didn't feel like I was running or anything. I was surprised I was done so fast.

One other note, mostly to myself. At the 6 to 6.5 mile point, three miles from the car, I realized that I had not locked my car. For those last three miles I was imagining getting to the trailhead and finding my car stolen. I can be paranoid at times. Turns out the car was safe and I had nothing to worry about. So, the note to myself is: don't forget to lock the car when you hike.

While the views were pretty cool, the entire hike seemed rather ho-hum to me. I've had similar feelings on other hikes - Oh, there's another chaparral covered hill. Oh, there's another beautiful Ocean Vista. Oh, there's another forested canyon. Most of the hikes I have done have something that pops. This one really didn't. It was nice enough and I don't regret doing it but I was not wowed. As a result, I didn't take many pictures this hike.
The few that I took are here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Entertaining The Loon Whisperer - Day 2 And Epilog

After staying up until 2:00 AM Sunday talking about old school mates (Two, count them Two School Year Books were involved), the Wife and the Loon Whisperer (LW) finally got to bed. Sunday morning everyone got up around 9:30 and we sent to Mrs. Olsen's for breakfast.

Mrs. Olsen's is this little place near the beach that serves great breakfasts. It was packed as usual so we ate ate the counter which wasn't so bas as the counter was fairly low and you sat in regular chairs instead of the usual bar stools. The Wife had Bangers and Mash. LW and I had some great pancakes, bacon, and eggs.

After breakfast and a brief stay at home we drove down to the Ventura Harbor to check out the stores before the whale watching.

Whale watching. What to say. That morning they saw four whales. The day before they saw three including one giving birth. Whale watching. Here are the kites flying over the whale watching place. Here is the sign for Island Packers, the whale watching organization. Here is the water spigot next to the ramp that took you down to the boat run by Island Packers. Here is the boat that takes you out to see the whales run by Island Packer. That is, when the head is working (For you landlubbers, the head is the toilet). Everyone stood around for an hour waiting for them to fix the toilet pump and ... it never got fixed. They canceled the trip. Darn. #@^&^#^$^%!@!!

We were totally bummed so we went and got some consolation ice cream before going to the Outlet Mall (The Spud, Naner, and Hooch are all getting cute outfits) and out to eat at the Olive Garden. Not quite as good as seeing the birthing of a whale but it came close ... sort'a ... well not really. Poop.

This morning we said our goodbyes on the way down to LAX. The house, as usual after someone leaves, feels very quiet and empty. I wish my mood had been better this weekend. I always get very argumentative when I'm moody and this weekend was no different. I ended up apologizing to LW before she left. I feel pretty sh*tty about it. She said she still had a good time despite me. I'm glad for that. I'll have to mike it up to her once we move back to Omaha.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Entertaining The Loon Whisperer - Day 1 - Continued

The ladies game back from their spa morning all relaxed and we piled into the car and headed to downtown Ventura for some food and shopping.

The food was supplied by Winchesters, a western saloon style restaurant which serves all kind of good food. They serve everything from the ordinary beef, chicken and Turkey to the slightly offbeat such as buffalo and ostrich. The Loon Whisperer (LW) had a grilled crab sandwich on sourdough which she declared to be yummy. The Wife and I had the more mundane Winchester Burger - equally yummy, I may add.

We walked off the food while shopping. Downtown Ventura has a lot of little eclectic stores. We ended up buying things at a baby clothes store, a Oaxacan store, and the Wife's favorite - B's on Main. The Ladies then went next door to a dive pool bar - not sure of the name. Not being interesting in drinking I walked down to the San Buenaventura mission store and bought a replacement for the Carmel Mission magnet I broke a week ago.

When I got back to the bar they were ready to move on so we went to Ben & Jerry's for some Ice Cream. We sat there eating our ice creams debating about going to a movie. LW, her life usually preoccupied by three little ones, doesn't often have a chance to see movies. All three of us were very indecisive but we ended up deciding to go see the Great Debaters. While I was a little tired, I enjoyed the movie. It was a good feel good movie.

The Wife and LW have gone out to Pirates Grub & Grog for some dinner and more talking and reminiscing. I, being full of ice cream and Dots, bowed out and decided to stay home and put this post together.

Tomorrow it's breakfast at Mrs. Olsens in the morning, Whale Watching in the afternoon, and the Amazing Race Finale in the evening.

... To Be Continued ...

Entertaining The Loon Whisperer - Day 0 and Day 1

I'm never good at estimating the drive time down to LAX. I always assume too much time and get there too early. Friday was no different. I arrived almost two hours early. Part of the problem was that the flight I was meeting was 25 minutes late. This would usually mean that I would spend a couple of bored hours walking around the baggage claim area, always an exciting prospect, but this time, for once, I came prepared - I'd brought my book with me. I found an unoccupied seat among the ginormous eight seats available in the baggage claim area and read a chapter or two until the plane arrived.

I met the Wife's best friend and, after a little discussion, we decided her Homer's Travels moniker would be the Loon Whisperer (LW). We picked up her bag after a short wait and got the heck out of the airport.

We both were hungry and I had planned to stop at a Marie Calendars on Lincoln that I had stopped at before but, as I prepared to turn into the parking lot, I realized that all the windows were boarded up. Oops. We continued on with LW threatening to tell the Wife that I didn't feed her. She pointed out an IHOP - she pointed it out after I passed the entrance - so I made a turn intending to go around the block. After the turn I spotted an In-N-Out and figured that a stop at the Wife's favorite quicky restaurant would be a good choice.

We filled up with some really good burgers and made our way up the Pacific Coast Highway. We had clear blue skies and the drive was pleasant. We drove by the Wife's school on the way home.

The Wife arrived home 15 minutes after we did and the beer drinking and chatter talk started. I became a little anti-social at this point and, after eating an excellent steak dinner and cleaning up the dishes, I retreated up to the den and drafted a post for Homer's Travels.

We started Saturday with some awesome music played really load:
  • Cool Places - Sparks
  • Our Lips Are Sealed - Go Gos
  • Love Shack - B-52s
  • Life's Been Good - Joe Walsh
  • Happy - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
  • Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
  • Start Wearing Purple - Gogol Bordello (From the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack)
  • Vampire - Antsy Pants (From the Juno soundtrack)
  • All I Want Is You - Barry Louis Polisar (From the Juno soundtrack)
This morning Wife and LW are at the spa while I draft this post and do some laundry. I'm not much of a spa person. After the Spa, they'll come by and pick me up and we will go to downtown Ventura for some lunch and shopping.

... To Be Continued ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Loons!

I had a pretty good hike today on the Zuma/Trancas Canyon Trail. I won't be posting about it right away as I have to get ready for a visit of a good friend of the Wifes (I like her too).

Her husband gave her the tickets out here as a Christmas present. The guy's almost as awesome as me. Heh. She needs a vacation as she's got a little one (the Spud) and two littler ones (Banana and Hooch) back home and she's a stay at home mom. By the way, the pseudonyms for the littler ones were picked by the Wife, not me. The Spud got hers from her parents.

I'll be picking her up tomorrow down in LAX. Her weekend will be filled with a trip to the spa with the Wife, lunch and shopping in downtown Ventura, breakfast at Mrs. Olsen's, and whale watching. In between these activities will be an uninterrupted dialog between her and the Wife.

Now, I haven't got her an official blog pseudonym for Homer's Travels yet. I thought about Spud's Mom but that leaves out the Banana and Hooch. The next choice would be the Caller Of The Loons (a long story that I don't know entirely but it has to do with "On Golden Pond"). That might be appropriate since she's calling on us. HA! I think I will just ask her her preference when I pick her up.

I will post about what's going on and I promise I will post about today's excellent hike sometime next week, if not sooner.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lazy Homer

I am settling into the role of house-husband pretty well. The Wife thinks the house has never been so clean - I think that's an exaggeration. Anyway, I thought about enlisting the help of Homer with some of the chores. Since he is often the last out of bed in the morning, I suggested he make the bed. Below is his response:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Polaroid Mary

On Sunday, following the excellent directions provided by a Homer's Travels visitor, the Wife, The "J", the "C", and I finally found Mary. An interesting day but not what I expected.

We left early Sunday morning and drove the two hours to Mojave where we stopped at Mike's Roadhouse Cafe and had Breakfast. We did this the last time we came out here and they even sat us down in the same table as before.

After some good food and conversation we got back on the road and drove the 15 - 20 minutes to California City. From there we followed the Twenty Mule Team Road out past the prison, past the large water tank on the left, past Borax Bill Park, and made a left on Lincoln by the misspelled Our Lady Of The Rock sign.

We arrived a little early but there were quite a few cars, RVs, and people already gathered. People were tailgating as the gathering was lead in choruses of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and inspirational music. Some of the crowd had Polaroid cameras. Others were taking pictures of the sun with their cell phones. One man near us in the crowd had a half inch thick stack of Polaroids.

At Noon a path was cleared for the procession of the Cross and a statue of Mary carried by Maria Paula and her attendants. Maria Paula is the woman who claims to speak regularly with Mary. She and her attendants are dress in white nun habits which was a little unsettling the the Wife as Maria Paula is not a nun. The procession circled the small makeshift grotto. A group of dancers, all volunteers, did a folkloric dance reminiscent of the Aztec dances in Mexico.

After the dance, Maria Paula talked to the gathering. She spoke in Spanish and talked about the coming judgment, the importance of setting an example of a sin free life for our children, and talked about how she saw Mary during the precession. It was a little odd. One thing that surprised me is that a large portion of the group weren't really paying close attention to Maria Paula. She would ask a basic question about scripture and no one would respond. She would have to ask the question several times to get any response. Afterward she walked the perimeter of the gathering offering blessings.

The whole think as a little odd and not what I expected. I had expected a more devoted following from the group but it just seemed like more of a social gathering then a real religious experience. There were those in the crowd who did pray during the entire event and some did show true belief and devotion but they seem to me to be the minority. I also hoped to have Maria Paula point to the sky and have the entire crowd raise their Polaroids in unison followed by the click-whir of hundreds of cameras - it didn't happen. We did get some Polaroids of our own.

The saving grace is that there was very little solicitation of money. They did have a raffle and they sold small religious statues and pictures to raise funds for a more permanent chapel/grotto that could be seen being constructed nearby but they never passed the bucket around as you would expect. It cost us nothing to be there and all exchange of funds was voluntary. That was refreshing.

Now, I have noticed something. I'm not sure if it's a trend yet or not but it seems that when I go to do a religious thing, it is often followed by a geeky thing. The Rosary Bowl was done with a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The LA Cathedral visit next month will be followed by the Mythbusters (More about that in another post), and this trip to Our Lady Of The Rock was no different. On the way home I noticed a car in front of us with a strange pole/antenna/camera mount (?) on the roof. As I got closer I noticed a Google sticker in his rear window. I suspect it was a GPS mapping car for Google Maps. I passed him and we could see that there was a large LCD screen next to the driver. He followed us into Ventura and, at a stop light, was right behind us. We rolled our window down and all waved like Dorks. In my rear view mirror I saw the driver smile and shake his head - I'm sure he sees that a lot. I should have taken a picture but I was too busy waving like a dork.

So there you have it, Mary to guide you spiritually and Google to guide you along the road. Pictures of the event are here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Few Odds And Ends

Just a quick post to let people know what we have been up to. Yesterday we had a realtor over to check out the house and to discuss putting it on the market. We called the guy who helped us buy the house originally 10 years ago - a real nice guy. We were pleasantly surprised about his opinion. He thought the house was in wonderful condition and that it had a nice homey feel. The Wife kept asking him what we needed to do the the house to get it ready to show and he kept saying that it was ready as is though he did agree that a little de-cluttering would help. This made us happy as we thought we may need to do some major changes in preparation. We are now thinking of putting it on the market at the end of the month.

Friday evening was at Santa Clara to watch a basketball game - the Saints won - Woo Hoo!

Today we went out to In-N-Out for lunch and did some shopping at Staples (Man, do I have an Office Supply fetish or what. Didn't buy anything though), Borders, and World Market. We then went to the Carnegie Art Museum in downtown Oxnard. It was a little ... underwhelming. The Wife and I aren't really connoisseurs of art but we thought we should go at least once. It took us maybe 10 to 15 minutes to walk through and we both agreed that that was enough - one more thing checked off our list.

Next we drove down to Heritage Square. Several houses from the early days of Oxnard have been moved to this square and returned to their original condition. There are tours of the different houses and wedding and other special events are held there. Underwhelming again. We decided not to take the tour and just walked around a little bit. Another thing checked off our list. I may have to come back with my camera later in the spring when the trees have leafed out and the gardens are in bloom.

That was enough for us so we went home and I got some reading done.

Tomorrow we make our second attempt at finding Mary, Our Lady Of the Rock, out in the Mojave Desert. This time we have directions thanks to a reader of Homer's Travels. The "J" and our friend the "C" will be joining us. While we will have our Polaroid camera, I think I'm more interested in taking pictures of the people than the Sun. Hopefully this time I won't damage the car.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #41: Romero Canyon

Wow, it feels like forever since I hiked but it's only been 16 days. The first hike of 2008 was to Romero Canyon in the hills over Montecito.

I arrived just after sunrise and started up Romero road. Up is the operative word here. The path I was taking made a figure eight. The first quarter of the hike follows Romero Creek. The small creek was running quick with all the water from last weekend's rain. As the trail heads up following the creek you are accompanied by the sound of rushing water and waterfalls. Very relaxing.

After a creek crossing I left the road and followed a trail on the left that continued to follow the creek. The trail was narrow but easy to follow and continued the upward progress. I was really feeling it. I stopped to rest thinking I had hiked a couple miles and it turned out I had hiked less then a mile. I eventually found my pace, caught a second wind or something because the rest of the 9 miles didn't seem as bad as the first mile.

Eventually the trail crossed the creek one last time and takes you back to Romero road. This intersection is the crossover point for the figure eight. I crossed over the road and continued on the narrow trail that became even steeper than before.

The second quarter follows this narrow path as it switchbacks and climbs steeply up the ridge towards East Camino Cielo. The path passed through several washes that for once actually had water running in them. The glory of rain. The path reaches the top of the ridge where I admired the Santa Ynez Back Country. There was still a little snow on the mountains in the distance.

The top of the ridge, called the Romero Saddle at this point, had been cleared for a fire access/fire break at some point in the recent past and was pretty desolate. I turned left and followed the saddle to the East Camino Cielo. Turns out this is where the paved East Camino Cielo ends. I walked over to a strange looking water tank and climbed on top. The top of the tanks was much larger than the tank itself and was slightly concave - I presume to collect rainwater in the tank.

The wind was blowing a bit at the top of the ridge and, not wanting to lose my new hat I decided risking looking like an Über-Dork and used the hat's chin strap. I like the hat, by the way, and it makes my shadow look like Indiana Jones. That is if Indiana Jones was wearing a dress - I had my jacket wrapped around my waist and the shadow looks like I'm wearing a dress. Heh.

I looked around soaking in the amazingly clear views when I noticed what looked like a trail going up a nearby peak. I debated going up briefly and went looking for the trailhead up the peak. There was a temporary sign that said New Trail. I headed up the rough trail and after some huffing and puffing made up to the rocky top. The views from the top were incredible. I was able to see the sights that I missed when I did my socked in hike up Montecito Peak.

From there I could see that the trail continued to an even higher peak down the ridge. I thought about going up to that peak. Pro: It's Higher. Con: I'm Tired. Pro: I've never been there and it's Higher! Con: I'm really tired. Pro: It's just right over there and another 50 to 100 feet up. Con: You still have 7 miles to hike to get back to the car and I'm tired. The Cons won.

I sat down on a rock out of the wind and ate my sandwich and orange. I drank some water and relaxed looking at the sweeping view. You could see all the way to Boney Mountain. The only sound was the sound of the wind and the distant sound of a train whistle.

I got up, took one last look at the taller peak, and head back down. I returned to Romero road and started down. The strange thing about this hike is the distance up is only about half of the distance down. The way up was around 3.5 miles. The way down is about 6.5 miles. This is because the road does a lot of winding on its way down while the trail up was more of a straight shot. The third quarter of the hike offers views to the north and out over the ocean. The view is breathtaking.

The road itself is susceptible to rock falls as evidenced by the number of rocks on the path. Some of the rocks were pretty big. One was about the size of a small Volkswagen. I didn't think anything of it until I heard a crashing overhead and turned in time to see a couple softball size rocks rolling down the hill about 20 feet in front of me. The last thing I would want to do is stain my new hat with blood - head wounds tend to bleed a lot. I continued on warily.

The rest of the hike was downhill. The last quarter offered views into the backyards of some huge houses. One house was on top of it's own private mountain. I passed a couple of bikers but there was no one else on the trail Thursday.

I good hike and a good start to the new year. The total distance was 10 miles with 2,679 feet of vertical. A few pictures can be found here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Poetry Of Post-Its

Yesterday I made a phone call about a wet-dry vacuum that's acting up - i.e. Screeching like a banshee and giving off evil smells (NO! It has nothing to do with my Butt!) . Anyway, as I talked to the customer service rep, I wrote a note on a post-it with the information about what to do with the persnickety vacuum.

The Wife gets home, sees the note and wonders to herself (and shared it with me later) "Is he writing poetry now?" What did I write?

Vacuum has life
Time warranty
Will have to send to St. Louis

I guess the Wife has a different idea of poetry than I do.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Geek And His To-Do List

It's been a few days since I resigned from my job and I am slowly settling into the position of House-Husband. I have always been a a little lazy when it came to work. At least I have been in my head. Other people say that I look like I am a dedicated hard working self-motivator. I am not sure if I was self-deluded or if I was just good at faking it. Anyway, since I don't consider myself a self-motivator, I knew I had to organize myself to keep me busy in pseudo-retirement.

Being the geek that I sometimes am, I opened a Remember The Milk account and linked it with all my Google accounts (GMail, GCal, iGoogle), and started building a to-do list combining all the tasks the Wife and I do around the house (I am taking over most tasks except Lawn Care and, for now, cooking). I hope this doesn't sound too weird. The Wife looked at me a little funny when I told her I'd been working on the to-do list for a couple weeks now. I guess I need the structure or I would just wonder around aimlessly.

I put my plan into action yesterday and, so far, everything is going geeky smooth.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Many Interpretations Of The Word Sigh

Yesterday's post has caused some confusion. That is appropriate as I am a little muddled in the head emotionally right now. Instead of answering the questions in the comments, I will answer in this post.

The "sigh" expresses how I felt yesterday - a very important day for me. Yesterday was my last day of work. When I started putting my Last-Day-Of-Work post together I was just going to post the simple word "freedom" but as I got closer to the big day my feelings drifted and the post changed to the simple "sigh". To explain it all I have to give some background.

The job I left yesterday was the first and only job I've every had as an adult. I have worked there for a little over 20 years. I have seen the same faces, been in the same buildings, and did essentially the same work for almost 45% of my life. As the last day approached a sense of melancholy developed. As I entered the building on Thursday I thought "This is the last time I will be entering this building." When I left I thought "This is the last time I will be leaving this building." My thoughts were like that all day. A melancholy "sigh".

The last stop on the check out process is to go to security, sign some papers about information disclosure, and to surrender you identification badges. Once the badges are handed over, it is over - no going back. As I removed my badges from the lanyard I wore around my neck, all that was going through my head were the risks that we are taking: Will the house sell? Will we find a house in Omaha that we like? Will the Wife get a job she likes? Will we be able to live on one income? Do I need to start looking for another job soon? A worried "sigh".

I also feel a sense of joy and freedom. I am no longer fettered by the 9 to 5 (actually the 6:10 to 3:30) job. This happy feeling, for now, is tempered by the melancholy and worry but it's definitely there. A content "sigh" of freedom.

So there you have it. Yesterday was a bittersweet day for me. It's a little hard to discard such a large part of my life. The future is murky and uncertain. But, DAMN, I don't have to go to work! I have no doubt that we are doing the right thing. It is time to move on to the next chapter of our lives.

P.S. Kudos to Just a Girl and GeekHiker for correctly interpreting my mood.

P.P.S. I think I will take a few days away from Homer's Travels to give me time to settle down and to get a grip on myself. Nothing some household chores and some reading won't fix.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Book: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

My latest read was an Oprah Book Club recommendation. The Wife gave me some guff about this since I am not a fan of Oprah. After reading good reviews, I decided not to hold this against the book. I'm glad I didn't.

Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is a haunting journey through a post-apocalyptic America. The book follows an unnamed father and son who are following a road. Their destination is unclear but the father says it is to the south to find the "Good Guys." The road leads them to the sea. Along the way they hide from the "Bad Guys."

The world McCarthy paints is shrouded in ash, falling like snow. Everything is grayed by the ash. The sun, obscured by the smoke and ash, provides little warmth. He never names the disaster. There is only one small paragraph that even suggests what the disaster was. Since radiation is never mentioned I suspect a supervolcanic eruption or an asteroid collision is the most likely cause of the devastation. Whatever the cause, human civilization has come to an end as all plant and animal life has died out, killed by the lack of sunshine and clean water. The survivors that remain, desperate in their starvation, have turned to cannibalism. These are the "Bad Guys."

As grim as this world is, hope continues to struggle as the father urges the son to "carry the fire". I see this as passing civilization from the older generation (the father) to the new generation (the son). The story illustrates the interdependence of the future with the past. The son is totally dependent on his father for his survival but the father is just as dependent on his son. Without his need to keep his son alive, the father would soon have lost his will to live. The son acts as the father's conscience as well, keeping him human.

The book is dark. There is no humor. Hope seems to be dwindling and may soon be dead and buried. The world before the disaster has faded into a meager few flashbacks and the haunted dreams the father and son have while sleeping in the cold, starless dark. Despite all this, the book is not depressing. It just IS. The book is about the journey. The destination, what ever it was, is never reached but the ending was expected. As I approached the last pages I actually slowed down a little because I didn't want it to end. There was so much more story to tell.

I read this book in four days. It was difficult to put down and the fact that the book is not divided into chapters gave you the sensation of trudging down the road along side the father and son.

The Godson also reviewed this book and you can find his opinion here. I really enjoyed this book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Chillin' In The New Year

We spent a quiet New Years Eve plopped in front of the boob tube watching the Wife's gay boyfriend (Anderson Cooper) and watching a couple 2007 retrospectives. At around 10:30 we'd had enough and we went to bed. I read in bed until midnight. The wife couldn't make it and had closed her book about an hour shy of the witching hour. I looked at my watch at about 11:59:45 and watched as the last seconds of 2007 ticked away into the ether. The watch changed to 12:00 1-1, I marked my page, put the book on the nightstand, turned off the light, and pulled the covers up. The Santa Anna winds were blowing outside the window but you could still hear the distant booming of illegal fireworks. Homer was unsettled by the din and jumped off the bed. He had done this before and I just let him sleep on the floor. That is, I let him sleep until I accidentally kicked him on the way to the bathroom three hours later. I apologized quietly and he jumped back on the bed. Happy New Year.

Today will continue to be quiet. New Years day always seems to be quiet in our home. A time to reflect on what's ahead I guess. A time for the Wife to watch the Rose Bowl and to root for whoever is playing USC. I usually start looking at the budget and taxes on this day - sort of a tradition - but I don't feel like it today. I think I'll do that next week. Instead I think I will curl up with my book in the big-ass chair in our den and lose myself.

I decided not
to hike last weekend and that gave me some time to catch up on some chores, some reading, and some downtime. I am planning to do the first hike of 2008 on Friday but the weather forecast is looking like rain. Of course, that's one of the reasons I asked for a new hat for Christmas. You didn't think I would get a new hat just to look geeky, did you? Negatory good buddy, I got the hat to provide extra protection from the sun and rain AND to look extra geeky while on the trail. An online friend of mine, GeekHiker, has suggested that hiking in the rain can make the hike more interesting. The hike I did up to Montecito Peak was in a thick mist which really enhanced the part of the trail that passed through the forested canyon but obliterated the view from the peak. If the weather is cooperative, I will hike Romero Canyon up in the Santa Barbara area of the Los Padres National Forest. This hike climbs the ridge behind Santa Barbara and heavy mist, drizzle, or rain would hamper the views. Plus, while rain may give you some cool photographic effects, it's not so good for your camera. I haven't decided yet.